When Wisconsin trout season is closed, we head to Iowa's Driftless streams for excellent Tenkara fishing.
Iowa stockers make for easy tenkara nymphing in Wisconsin's "off season".
When you think of road trip fishing destinations, you probably don’t think of Iowa. But the North East corner of the state is home to the southern edge of the Driftless region, and that means excellent tenkara fishing! The landscape will be familiar to those who have fished the Driftless region in Wisconsin: rolling hills and valleys with small to medium-size limestone spring creeks winding their way towards the Mighty Mississippi. This little slice of the Driftless is about two hours from our home base in Madison, Wisconsin. Making the Iowa run is do-able for a day trip. Their trout season is open year-round, so when the weather cooperates, it is our choice destination for off-season trout fishing.
Touring WI Driftless trout streams for end-of-season Tenkara
What better way to close down Wisconsin trout season, than to bum around camping and fishing the Driftless for three days? I loaded up the Jeep on Monday morning and hit the road, headed for new water in Crawford county...
Trout season has closed in Wisconsin, and the warm water fish have gone deep. Luckily for us, Iowa's well stocked streams are just a few hours away. I got out there last week to explore a new section on one of my favorite creeks. It did not disappoint! After the first run coughed up a solid half dozen fish (we'll take a look at that in another trip report), the section launched into a really nice series of bend pools with great structure.
I hit the water rigged up with a 12 foot BADGER Line, 6-7 feet of 5x, and a #12 bead head Killer Bug. I typically prefer the BADGER-LITE line on the BAD AXE, but wanted to give the heavier line a try to see how it performed on this rod while nymphing the bottom. It ended up casting as well it needed to, and since I typically leave a few feet of line on the water when nymphing, its added weight didn't create any disadvantage. The advantage of using the heavier line played out in the cast, which allowed me to fish a longer tippet. The extra weight translates into added momentum, making it easier to turn over a fly out on the far end of the system.
Since I spent most of the summer fishing foam terrestrials and Pass Lake wet flies, switching over to sub surface takes that I can't see has taken some getting used to. After a while, I managed to shake off the rust, and got back into the habit of using a few techniques that work well for my sub-surface game:
1) I lightened up my grip to the bare minimum it takes for my fingers to hold the rod. This gives me increased sensitivity to bumps and pressure shifts on the system.
2) When drawing the system back to make the next cast, I begin by making a few tiny, upward twitches. If the resistance seems greater than I'd expect from water and current, I immediately apply a firm hook set. The twitches sometimes trigger a reaction from the fish, because they only then realize they have been hooked!
3) While dead drifting is just about always my opening tactic, I typically shift into various patterns of action on the next drift. Swinging and stripping a nymph through current, or on the surface, can be very productive!
All and all, it was great day of fishing, on a section of water with lots of variance and character!
Wisconsin trout season closed September 30th, but that doesn't mean we're done fishing! There's a nice bass stream we explored a little bit last year that we wanted to spend some more time on this season. We had planned to fish it during the height of summer when it is too warm to trout fish, but we had such a mild summer that that never happened. So, we were back on this little gem as soon as the trout season closed.
For once, conditions worked out in our favor. Matt and I manage to get out to fish quite a bit, sometimes multiple outings per week during the season. However, given our family and work obligations, we don't always manage to get out during the prime times of day for fishing, nor during prime conditions. I can't tell you how many times we have lost the favorable cloud cover on the way to the creek. Yesterday, though, we timed everything right. We got on the creek at about 12:30, getting towards the warmest time of day. Morning temps were in the high 40's, but it was reaching 70 by afternoon, the warm up being favorable for bass fishing. Best of all, for once the clouds rolled in about the time we started fishing. Storms were predicted for the evening, and sometimes the threat of storm seems to trigger the fish to feed.
We started in a skinny stretch of stream that we had not fished before. We brought a few rough fish to hand, which we never complain about, but were not what we were looking for. We moved up to a bridge pool that looked to have some significant depth, perhaps six feet or so. There, Matt pulled in a small mouth off the bank followed by a feisty rock bass. There was a nice brush pile on my side of the stream that was good for three rock bass, and between the two of us, we caught nearly a dozen bass and rough fish from the bridge pool!
As we moved up the stream, we came upon some bend pools there were nothing short of glorious. Smallmouth, Rockbass, a few little Bluegill, and several kinds of rough fish were hitting left and right! The smallmouths were the largest we caught, but were not huge. The smallest was 8 or 9 inches, and the larger fish were a foot, give or take a bit. Still, the fight a 12 inch smallmouth will give you on a tenkara rod is really something to behold!
The nicer pools were all good for several fish each, and the deeper runs would also produce. Dropping the fly just in front of any structure seemed to be the ticket, as was fishing tight to the bank. It was one of those days were you look at a piece of water and think "that should hold a fish", and sure enough, you'd get a take.
I was fishing the Badger Tenkara Classic with about 12 feet of our Badger floating line, followed by about 10 inches of bright red nylon Amnesia to act as an indicator with 6 feet of 2x tippet. The fly I was using was a white streamer pattern with a cone head. This rig is rather heavy for tenkara (and pretty un-tenkara), but the rod handled it just fine. The fish would tend to take fly just as it was sinking or as I started to twitch it back to me.
Matt was fishing a field modified rod with a Badger Floating Line (see Matt's comments on this below). This set up works surprising well. He started with a large version his new favorite fly, the "pass lake", and when that was lost to a snag, he switched to a bead head woolly bugger. Both worked just fine. It was cool to see the bend the Smallmouth would put in his field hacked rod!
This creek is just one of the many options we have for fishing once the trout season closes. We have some old favorites we hope to hit in the next few weeks and some new waters we have yet to explore. We'll keep you posted on what we find!
Note from Matt on field hacked rods:
Here is an easy, cost effective hack. I keep a few rolls of self-adhesive athletic tape in my kit, because it comes in handy for quick repairs to several types of gear. This stuff sells for less than $5 at just about any pharmacy or family store.
Simply remove the bottom grip section, or even a the next one or two sections from the rod. You then wrap the self adhesive tape around the new bottom section, which serves like a butt cap to keep collapsed sections secure inside the rod. Then, wrap it up another six inches or so to shape a handle.
This configuration reduced the rod's length a few feet, and results in a softer action! While I really enjoy fishing with the Badger Classic, it has a stiffer action to it that is great for larger fish. With this softer action, smaller fish are even more fun than usual!
The nice thing is that the tape only sticks to itself, and not the rod. This means that you can return the rod to its original configuration any time without damaging its finish or functionality!
Matt and I got out last week to fish a creek we really enjoy but had not fished since spring. As is typically the case, by the time Matt and I took care of our family obligations in the morning, the cloud cover was gone and we were facing a bright, sunny day. Full sun is wonderful for my tomato plants, not so great for the trout fishing.
When we arrived, the newly rehabbed section of the creek caught our eye. The work was completed sometime this summer, after the last time we fished the creek. I think the pictures speak for themselves. The Aldo Leopold Trout Unlimited chapter did an incredible job restoring the creek. I had fished this same section last year prior to the rehab work, and it was miserable: difficult to fish, muddy,steep banks and few fish. I managed to hook one under a dilapidated foot bridge, but that was it, and getting to that fish was pretty unpleasant with overgrown brush, lots of deadfalls and stinking marsh. In contrast, fishing it this year was relaxing and enjoyable.
Cleared and repaired banks will make this section shine.
Despite the beautiful rehab work, I think someone forgot to tell the trout that they should move into their new digs. I caught one eight incher, and we spooked a few others, but that was it. Of course, we were fishing at the wrong time of day under bright sun, so that could have something to do with it, too. This is one situation where I think it would be good for the DNR to stock the stream, at least to jump start it. I think it will go on to be a self-sustaining fishery, but it could use some help to get going. Stream temps were about perfect at 59 degrees, and with plenty of structure and holding water, I think this stream could really be something in the next couple of years.
Once we reached the end of the rehab work, we hiked back to the truck and drove up stream to the section we typically fish. We started a the bridge pool were Matt had a couple of monster rainbows break his tippet earlier in the season. I thought about switching to some 4x or even 3x just in case, but decided to try my luck with and just stay with the 5x I had rigged and ready. We know this pool is pretty deep, and while we have caught some nice medium size fish with unweighted or lightly weighted flies, we know the big boys lurk deep. I peered into my fly box looking for something tempting with a little weight to it. I grabbed a bead headed San Ron Worm I tied up a while back, a pattern I really don't have any experience fishing.
I cast the the SRW towards the head of the pool, letting the current and weight sink the fly. Imagine my shock when I saw what looked like a leviathan rainbow rise from the deep and absolutely crush the SRW. I got a solid hook set on him, but now what? I knew there was a good chance that if I tried to play him at all he would bust the 5x tippet. I think instinct took over, and I thought "I have to get this guy on the bank before he breaks off". I basically ran backwards, towing him towards the bank. As soon as the fish was on the bank, the tippet snapped and the fish started to flip towards the water. Not my most graceful performance.
A 16 inch Rainbow that Mike caught from the "Monster Pool".
We moved on up stream from there and were alarmed to see how much some of the stream had silted in since spring. Some of the better pools and runs were just ruined. Many of the fish were hanging out in the soft, shallow inside corners, making them just about unapproachable. Matt managed to hook a couple of nice medium size browns from tight under the bank, and we both got into a few chubs, but that was it. It will be interesting to see how the stream winters over and what it is like in the spring.
So, we managed to catch a few fish despite undesirable conditions. We also had a great time, which is really all you can ask for.
Our trout season here in Wisconsin is winding down, but Matt and I have some other adventures planned for fall and winter. Stay tuned!